How we came to purchase our home.

WPA Photo

A Works Progress Administration photo offers a glimpse of our home's past.

Reproduction Windsor Chair

Finally, a dining room set.

No Power, No Heat.

Our first snow storm and it's aftermath, October, 2011.

Lead Poisoning

Updates to our son's lead levels.

Bit By Bit

My wife's blog on being pregnant, giving birth and raising our first child with all the complications, hardships and joys that life throws our way.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Chicken Coop... the Beginning

It's been my wife's ambition over the last few years to have a chicken coop installed in our back yard.  After the birth of our son, the idea had started to percolate.  When she was diagnosed with Lupus, our priorities changed drastically.  After her health stabilized, our second child was born.  Things have been rolling along smoothly (well, as smoothly as possible with a 3 year old and baby), when one of my wife's co-workers brought in a carton of fertilized chicken eggs from their home.  She called me VERY excited and asked, no, correction, she stated that we are getting chickens.  There wasn't any point in arguing, her voice was unapologetically happy.

So the research was restarted.  Chicken habitats, housing, feed, water, predators and winter protection were revisited.  I contacted our Town Hall's Building and Engineering Department to inquire about any issues.  I'm glad I did.  There is a permit required for having an accessory building, which a chicken coop classifies as (I suppose it's the same as a garden shed).  Regarding a location for the coop, there are no regulations limiting owning chickens in our town, so long as the accessory structure is located behind the back plane of the house, at least 10 feet away from the property line and is less than 200 square feet in size; a permit consists of $50 with a one page application (name, address, description = Chicken Coop) and a plot plan was all that was required.  

The Town Planner was excited about the prospect of chickens, yet realizing that people like to complain; the following advice was given from her experience, not due to any current regulation requirements, but just as a courtesy.

1.  Avoid getting roosters as they tended to be the main complaint that the inspectors get.
We don't want a wild cock chasing us around our own property and didn't see the need to have fertilized eggs on a regular basis, so that aspect wasn't an issue.

2.  Place the coop in the center of the property, as far from neighbors as possible.
The location, however, is an issue.  From our research, chickens need a certain amount of sun light for egg production.  There's no sense in having chickens that don't produce eggs, so consideration for sunlight overshadows (haha) the neighbors' needs/wants.

3.  Hide the coop using landscaping (bushes, trees, etc).
If there are funds left over, I don't mind beautifying our property.

We sat down and considered the sunny and shaded areas around our property as well as distance from our neighbors.  We took to forums and have found that the three main concerns with the location (after installing the coop) were long walks during the winter, flooding and utilities (water and power).  It would seem that most owners placed the coop as far as possible from the home and did not consider the need to maintain the flock year round.  Access to the coop during the winter and heavy rain is important for feeding and collecting eggs.  Also, an area in the property with a high water table can lead to flooding of the run and potentially health problems for the chickens.  Power is highly recommended for providing minimal heat to keep water liquid for the chickens during the winter and running water would be for cleaning out the coop on a regular basis.  Which, by the way, seems to be the cause for any smells from the coop.  A periodic cleaning should keep the coop comparatively smell free, thus negating the need for the coop being as far as possible from the home.  So, we chose a location that was in partial sunlight, near our rear door and has access to a powered receptacle for an extension chord as well as a water spigot for cleaning out the coop.  The location is also not in a watery area and not at a bottom of a hill.

Plot plan somewhat as submitted to Town Hall
The plot plan was approved February 17, 2016, by the Town Planner.

With the location settled, we looked into various other coop designs to find the one that best suited our needs.  We do not have a fully fenced in back yard.  As much as we would like the flock to roam freely, for their safety, we would have to keep them secured in the run. 

If you are new to this venture, the coop is where chickens sleep, roost and lay eggs.  The run is a protective enclosure for the chickens to somewhat run around in outside of the coop.  Chickens need to be protected from predators such as hawks, eagles, raccoons, foxes, etc.  There are a number of installations that help in preventing predators from harming the birds.  These range from using concrete blocks around the perimeter of the base, a poured concrete foundation, gravel and hardware cloth.

The size of the run and coop both depend upon the number of chickens that you plan on keeping and the type of chicken species as well.  I've also found that it is recommended to plan a little bigger on the coop/run just in case.  As far as the size goes, the square footage varies from one source to another; where one source will indicate ten square feet per bird and another will say that four is a general rule.  Whether or not the chickens free range is important as they'll need more or less room in the coop/run.

Looking at BackYardChickens.com, we had hoped to find detailed plans indicating "what and how much".  Unfortunately, such plans are nearly impossible to find unless you're willing to settle for a lousy shack or pay for the several advertisements available.  If we were so inclined, we could also purchase a kit and assemble it.  As easy as that would be, I'm not too keen on paying $500+ for a kit with lower quality wood.

Continuing our search for samples, we came across a couple that built an impressive coop/run combo.  The couple manage a website called steamykitchen.com.  They called their coop design the Palace Chicken Coop and they detailed the construction of it here:  The Palace Chicken Coop.  They have a link for a Google Sketchup plan (very useful) and plenty of photos showing how they built it.  My wife and I do like the appearance and the size.  However, the issues that have me somewhat concerned are Scott's justifiable disclaimer (being not an architect nor an engineer) and their location, Florida.  Reading their posting and the numerous comments that followed, I was concerned that living in Florida would have a vastly different weather cycle than living in New England, where we are.  Their foundation was also not very deep, practically at ground level, which would lead to frost heaving issues in the north.  The lack of snow in Florida also has an impact on the structural supports were it to be in our area.  This is not a negative to Jaden and Scott, the post creators, they live in an area that is completely different than our own and likewise, our coop would have to be modified to reflect that.

SteamyKitchen.com - The Palace Coop
So, using the conceptual plan from steamykitchen.com, we know which way we'd like to go for our flock.  Due to our different locales, I've tasked myself with fully designing the coop and run based on my location, taking into account the snow and wind forces that are common in New England.  I also felt sorry for my unused, old and dusty engineering manuals from college and thought, why not?

Future postings will update the design and construction phases of our Chicken Coop.